Perched high above the Urubamba river, nestled between two mountain peaks, Machu Picchu welcomes its visitors from dawn to dusk everyday of the year except during the month of February. It is one of the most famous archaeological ruins in the world and probably on most people’s bucket list and I can tell you, it’s rightly so.
Since its discovery by Hiram Bingham in 1911, there have been countless theories of how this site was built and why it was abandoned almost 500 hundred years ago. Yet, it still raises more questions than answers. It’s hard to imagine how this massive structure was built along the ridge of a mountain, the surrounding agricultural terraces were carved and most importantly how they carried huge stones and soil to an area with such limited accessibility in an age where no heavy machinery existed and without the use of any writing materials, architectural equipment. Hence, it continues to be an enigma.
I strongly believe that everyone who comes to visit will have a different feeling and understanding of this mysterious place. Read on for how we felt during our visit…
DO IT YOURSELF
We didn’t want to do the famous 4 day Inca Trail tour to Machu Picchu for several reasons but instead made our own way there which also turned out to be the cheapest way of enjoying it. One of the reasons why we were against the 4 day tour was the fact that the money made by these tours, train tickets and buses is not fairly reallocated. In other words, the rich (Peruvian government & PeruRail) get richer and the poor (your average Peruvian friend) get poorer. Plus, it seems that for tourism purposes, the Peruvian government spares funds only for the Cusco area and yet around the rest of the country, particularly in the north, other major archaeological sites are left unattended and left to decay as they are deemed not profitable enough.
So, long story short, the following is how we made our trip to Aguas Calientes and then on to Machu Picchu on 21st September, the Southern Hemisphere’s Spring Solstice, a special day for a very special place…
We took an early minivan from Cusco around 7am to go to all the way to Hidro Electrica, the closest town to get to Aguas Cailentes. You can take the minivan either at the bus station in Cusco on the day or book it a day in advance from any of the tour agencies . However, this option won’t be offered by a tour agent unless you know about it and ask for it as it’s a cheaper alternative and they all want to lure you in to the expensive tours first. How we found out about this option was basically to go to the Main Tourist Information Office in Cusco and ask for the different options as you’ll be surprised how everyone thinks the Inca trail or the train from Cusco is the only way to get to Machu Picchu.
The bus journey is not the most comfortable one going through pretty hectic dirt roads and takes about 9 hours but it’s about 4 times cheaper (£10) than the 2 hr train ride from Cusco (£45 one way). Once we got to Hidro Electrica, we had two options, either to take another expensive 20 min hydroelectric train (£12) or walk along the rail tracks for 2.5 hrs. We wanted to walk along the tracks of course but just when we arrived the heavens opened up with seemingly no end is sight for the downpour. We waited for a while hoping it’d stop before it got dark but no luck. Along with a few fellow unhappy backpackers we had to get on the next and last train up to Aguas Calientes.
I’m sure Aguas Calienetes was once a pretty cute little town just before the massive tourist influx but now is an overpriced, overcrowded place. We found the cheapest available hostel for the night and went to sleep to be ready for an early start the next morning.
Again, there are two options to enter Machu Picchu, either to take the 20 min bus (£12 return) or walk up the stairs. As you can guess, we went for the long hike 🙂 Starting at 4;45am, it was a strenuous, steep hike ascending 390 meters that took us just under an hour to get to the top but very rewarding. Plus, there are so many other travelers walking up with you and everyone supports and motivates each other when you get out of breath.
Entering a magical world
The sheer size of Machu Picchu and its hypnotic landscape when you first enter the site feels like you’re being invited through a sacred door and all its mystery is waiting to be unveiled. It’s as beautiful as every single image you have seen but it has something else to it, more magical, more special, only to be realized once you physically walk around its passageways and gates. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the strong energy around it.This is also a magnificent display of the engineering prowess of the Incas. The stonework and the position of the walls in relation to the sun is mind blowing. We were so captivated by it that we only realized we had been on site for almost 12 hours when the security guys told us to leave at around 5pm.
I tried to capture how impressive Machu Picchu is in my photos but to be honest, this is one of those places that only being there and looking at it with your naked eye will do it justice. However, it’s still pretty amazing in pictures 🙂 Here is a few selected just for you to give you an idea. I really hope you make a trip out there one day…
In the time it took us to walk back from the Sun Gate to the main complex, all the tourists and guides had been cleared out which gave us a few precious moments to enjoy the glory of Machu Picchu without anyone else around – Perfect end to a perfect day.